“Why is it that you girls are back home so much earlier than usual?” Reuel asked his daughters.
“An Egyptian was at the well where we go to water our flocks,” said the daughters. “Evil shepherds rushed in to drive our herds away, but this stranger drove the shepherds away. He also drew water for us, and that is why we are home so soon” (Ex. 2:17).
“Then let us properly thank the man,” Reuel exclaimed. “Go find him and invite him to eat with us.”
Because he was lonely, Moses was happy to be invited to Reuel’s home. It didn’t take long for Reuel to see that this stranger was a very intelligent and educated man, well-trained in many matters.
Reuel knew that such a man could be valuable to him, and so he invited Moses to live in his home for a while.
“I should like to stay here,” Moses told Reuel. “But if I do, I want to earn my living.” “The only work I can give you is that of herding sheep,” Reuel replied. “I don’t suppose a man of your ability and education would do that for a living.” “I’ll take the job,” said Moses.
The lonely task of tending sheep was quite a change for Moses, who for so many years had been surrounded by crowds of people of high rank. He had enjoyed the best of food and clothing, and had lived in magnificent buildings. Now, however, he was free to think and to pray. What was more, he had always wanted to be a writer. This job of herding flocks gave him a wonderful chance to do that writing. Many years later, his writings became a large part of the Bible.
As time went on, Moses became very fond of Zipporah, one of Reuel’s daughters. They were married, and later had two sons.
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, matters were becoming steadily worse for the Israelites. The Pharaoh whose daughter had adopted Moses had long since died, and those who followed him as king were even crueler. The Israelites suffered more and more, and increasingly begged God to free them from the Egyptians.
God heard their prayers. He had not forgotten the agreement He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was soon to take action for the Israelites.
One day after Moses had been in Midian about forty years, he herded his flocks close to a mountain known as Horeb. Looking up the slopes, he noticed that a fire was burning in the brush above him. He hurried up toward it, and found that a small desert tree was burning furiously. As Moses watched, the bush continued to burn, but it did not burn up!
“This is a most amazing thing!” Moses thought as he stared at flames that hissed up from branches that weren’t even singed!
But even more amazing was what happened next. A strong voice sounded from out of the flames! “Moses! Moses!” It called. “Here I am” Moses replied, though he saw no one as he glanced quickly about him (Ex. 3:4).
“Don’t come any closer,” said the voice.” You are standing on holy ground. Take off your shoes and listen to what I have to say!”
There was something about the voice that made Moses obey. It was rather frightening to hear such a strange voice coming out of nowhere. In the next few seconds Moses was to receive the greatest shock of his life.
“I am God!” the voice said. “I am the One who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex. 3:6)!
When Moses heard those words, he was filled with such awe and fear that he was afraid to keep on looking at the dazzling flames, and he pulled his jacket up over his eyes.
“I have seen the troubles of my people, the Israelites,” the voice continued. “I know their sorrows. I am going to rescue them from the Egyptians and take them to the good, rich land of Canaan. I want you, Moses, to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelites leave Egypt” (Ex. 3:7-10)!
Moses was so surprised by what he heard that he could scarcely believe it. Why would God, he wondered, pick a sheep herder to tell the king of Egypt that he should let the Israelites go free?
At last Moses managed to speak. “Why do you choose me to go to Pharaoh?” he asked. “I had to flee from Egypt years ago. If the present king learns of who I am, he will have me killed. If he knows me for only a stranger, he won’t listen to anything I say.”
“I shall give you wisdom in what to say and do,” the voice answered. “But my own people, as well as the Egyptians, will want to know what right I have to tell Pharaoh what to do,” Moses said. “They will want to know the name of the God who has told me what to do.”
“Tell them that the God who calls Himself I AM THAT I AM has sent you,” the voice said, (Ex. 3:14). “Furthermore, tell your people that I am to be known by that name for all their generations to come.”
Now go back to Egypt and gather all the leaders of Israel together and tell them that the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – has appeared to you to promise that He will bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the rich land of Canaan.
Then you must go with them to the king of Egypt and tell him that I, your God, have commanded the Israelites to make a three-day trip into the desert to worship Me. The king of Egypt will not at first agree to let you go. Later, I shall bring some horrible calamities upon him and the Egyptians. Then the Israelites shall at last escape.
They shall not leave as poor people, however, because the women of Israel shall ask for payment for the services the Israelites have performed for the Egyptians. I shall cause the Egyptians to give so freely that a great part of their wealth will go to the Israelites (Ex. 3:21-22).
But Moses still couldn’t be sure that the Israelites would believe that God had spoken to him to be their leader in this move for freedom.
“Unless I have some way to startle them into believing me,” Moses told God, “they will not pay any attention to what I say.”
“What do you have in your hand?” God asked Moses. “My shepherd rod,” Moses answered. “Throw it on the ground,” God commanded.
Moses obeyed, and tossed the staff down before himself in the dust. The instant it touched the ground, it seemed to slowly wiggle as though it had come to life! Moses leaped back, staring in amazement. The rod had turned into a live snake (Ex. 4:3).
“Now grab the serpent by its tail,” God said to Moses. It took courage to seize a six-foot snake by its tail. But Moses knew he must obey, no matter what would happen. Slowly he moved toward the coiling, hissing reptile. Then he crouched down and swiftly snatched it by the tail. Instantly the snake turned into a solid shepherd rod in his hand!
“If they don’t believe you, perform this miracle,” God told Moses. “Then, if there are still some who doubt you, there is another thing you can do. Put your hand inside your jacket.”
Moses thrust one hand inside his jacket close to his chest. God then told him to withdraw his hand. When he did, he was horrified to see that the flesh of his hand had become white and bumpy and full of holes, as though it had been left in boiling water! Moses knew at once that God had struck his hand with a terrible, flesh-rotting disease known as leprosy.
“Now put your hand back inside your jacket,” God commanded. Moses obeyed again, and when he looked at his hand he saw that it was back to its normal, healthy condition (Ex. 4:6-7)!
“If there are some of your people who still doubt you after these two signs, then perform a third miracle,” God told Moses. “Dip some water from the Nile River and pour it out before them on the dry ground. It will at once turn to blood before their eyes!”
In spite of these miracles God showed him, Moses still felt that the task of getting the Israelites out of Egypt was much too great for him. Just as it has been with many people whom God calls for a purpose. Moses thought of reasons why he shouldn’t be chosen.
“It’s been so long since I left the region of the Nile that I can’t speak the language well enough to be perfectly understood by the Egyptians,” Moses said. “Besides, I can’t speak Hebrew well enough for the Israelites to look to me as a leader.”
“Don’t worry about such things,” God said to Moses. ‘I have created men who can speak well just as I have created those who can’t speak nor hear nor see. As your Creator, I have the power to cause you to speak well.”
In spite of all the help God promised him, Moses still felt that it was too much for him to talk Pharaoh into freeing the Israelites. “Please send someone else who is more fitted to this great task,” Moses begged.
The words from Moses displeased God, just as he is always displeased when some one tries to shirk special duties commanded of him by God. Still, he was very patient with Moses.
“Your brother Aaron, who is in Egypt, will help you,” God told Moses. “I shall tell you what to say and do, and you will tell Aaron these things. Then Aaron will speak for you. As for the miracles, you must keep your rod with which to perform them. And don’t fear the Egyptians who wanted to kill you years ago. All of them are dead.”
Moses thereupon herded his flocks back to his home, which was one or two days’ journey away. He went at once to his father-in-law, Jethro, who owned the sheep Moses herded. Jethro was another name of Reuel, the high priest of the land of Midian. Many people had several names in that day, just as we do today.
“I want to return to Egypt to visit my relatives,” Moses told him. Jethro must have thought it was rather strange that Moses should suddenly want to go back to Egypt after having been gone so long. Nevertheless, he agreed to let Moses leave. But if Moses had told him that he wanted to go back for the purpose of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, probably Jethro would have thought of Moses as being insane, and would have refused to let Moses depart with Zipporah and the two sons. Just before he left Midian, Moses received another message from God, in which he was warned again that Pharaoh would at first refuse to free the Israelites.
“When that happens,” God said, “I shall bring some terrible things upon the Egyptians. If the king still refuses, then tell him that I, the God of Israel, will kill his first-born son” (Ex. 4:23)!
Traveling on burros, Moses and his wife and two sons set out northward along the east side of the Red Sea. On the way, Zipporah became angry with Moses over a matter of having to do with one of their sons. This caused Moses to decide that it would not be best for his family to go with him into Egypt, where difficult times were soon to come. Therefore he sent the three back to stay with Zipporah’s father, Jethro.
Meanwhile, back in the land of Goshen, Moses’ brother, Aaron, had received a message from God.
“Go out at once by way of the Red Sea and down the Sinai peninsula to Mt. Horeb,” Aaron was told. “There you will meet Moses, your brother who has been missing for forty years.”
So it was that God caused Moses, traveling alone to the north, to meet Aaron, his brother, traveling to the south past Mt. Horeb. It was a happy meeting, and it took hours and even days for them to exchange news and experiences. But the thing that was greatest in their minds was the task God had put upon them.
Together they went to Goshen in Egypt, and there gathered the elders of Israel to speak to them. Aaron told them all the tings God had told Moses.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.